The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


October 15, 2007

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 10/15/07
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.

I think many people live in a fantasy world, believing that if we would simply get our troops out of places they feel they don’t belong, all would be right.  After the past week at work I’m here to tell you it will not. Many of my colleagues and I believe we will be right where we are for another five years, at least. And even if we’re not, the effects are going to be felt for many, many years.

Why do I say this? Why do I believe this? I am now starting to see patients returning to inpatient status, requiring additional surgeries and interventions, years after their original injuries. One of the other nurses said to me yesterday, “Clara, we’re seeing these guys again. It’s been years since his initial injury and now he’s back”

They are back. The ones who can come back.

Some will be medically retired and will be farmed out to the VA system -- an already overwhelmed VA system, largely ill-equipped to deal with the issues and needs of the OIF/OEF Soldier, Marine, Airman and Sailor.

Some will seemingly manage “just fine” until they self-destruct. Too many will allow alcohol and pharmaceuticals to take the place of the in-depth mental health assistance almost all cry out for but may never get.

Some will take their own lives as the horrific pain of dealing with just “one more day” –- one more day of  woulda/coulda/shoulda -- becomes too overwhelming.

Some will never come back. Not the way they left anyway.

Some will find their own way, alone or with help from friends and family, and will progress on -- possibly retaining their military career, or perhaps replacing it with opportunities now afforded.

Why do I write this? Because it is reality. This is the world I live in and see every single day. As one patient physically heals and is discharged from the hospital, another is there to take their place. Over and over I experience this. Whether it is a newly injured soldier fresh from the battlefield or the Marine blown up three years ago, I see it. And these are only the ones I do lay eyes upon. What about the thousands and thousands who come home physically in one piece? The others who return from their 4th, 5th, 6th tours?

Whether we are right or wrong to be where we are is not the question. The question is and should remain, “How do we help those who believe enough in their country, its citizens and its leaders, to do their job?”

Many people write me and ask, "What can we do?" They want to be proactive instead of sitting passively along the sidelines criticizing. Instead of saying, “We need to get the hell out of there,” try donating your unused frequent flyer miles to the Fisher House Foundation or Soldiers Angels, so they can in turn use them to bring families and friends to a soldier’s bedside.

Try learning about combat stress and post traumatic stress disorder so that when your cousin returns from Afghanistan you’ll understand why he hits the ground when a firecracker goes off or a car backfires. You can assure the OIF/OEF vet that they are not going crazy, but are having normal reactions to having experienced very abnormal events and situations.

Urge Congress to put pressure on the military to provide appropriate care and staffing for our wounded warriors. You may not know about it, but there is a nursing shortage and it extends into the military healthcare. We need more staff. Many of our active duty nursing staff are deployed, so we backfill with reservists and civilians, but there is still not enough. We need mental health professionals these guys and gals can relate to, people who actually have a clue as to what it’s like to be in combat. I hate to say this, but I’ve met some of these mental health folks and even I wouldn’t talk to them, and I don’t have a quarter of the issues these injured do.

Give your extra pennies to organizations that help sponsor day trips and outings for the wounded. Simply getting them out of the drudgery of rehab and giving them something to look forward to can bring about a drastic change and improvement in their attitude and outlook.

Earlier this week I saw a t-shirt worn by the mother of one of my injured Marines and it said, “If you don’t want to support our troops feel free to stand in front of them." Kind of speaks for itself.


Well said! I think there is a real need for the services you speak of. I think the bandaid of the past has fallen off!

Chillingly accurate! We need to pay the actual cost of these wars, willingly, unshirkingly, and immediately. We are not doing this, and our shame is huge. The actual cost is not just in guns and tanks, but in lives, limbs and sanity.

We must pay the full cost of these adventures, or never do it again.

Amen. Perhaps this time around we might actually learn from the last time. Leaders with long memories and vision are sorely needed. The United States maybe just isn't ready to make a good decision for troops. I know I will be busy for years to come and am ready. But if I don't come off a short term contract people will not be seen. Nurses, Doctors, Social Workers, Psychatrists are all needed and in a big way.

You are, of course, correct in pointing out that it is necessary to take the long view as far as taking care of our veterans. As the current administration has driven us to a war without even the most basic exit strategy, similarly, they have left veterans of that war "out in the cold," so to speak, with inadequate medical and mental health resources.

However, I must disagree with your assertion that ending the war will not result in everything being okay. It will have that effect on the people who didn't have to go to war to fight in an unpopular and incredibly incompetently managed conflict. No more soldiers will come home in body bags and no more broken warriors will end their military careers, if not their lives, in hospitals.

We must help the soldiers who have gone and served their country honorably. We, also, must prevent more from becoming casualties in pointless war that lacks even a simple benchmark for "victory." We cannot continue to feed the best of the current generation into the meat grinders that are Iraq and Afghanistan. If we do, our country will be changed dramatically - for the worse.

If we didn't learn the lesson from the Vietnam war, why do you think we will correct anything in the future? Who do you think the army of homeless are? Now add the present war affected returnees, and see the problem grow!

"Ours is not to reason why - ours is but to do and die."

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Surely you are not suggesting that those who question the decisions of our leaders to involve us in this war should not make our opinions known. I am in aggreement with DocHoliday. We need to do everything we can for our wounded soldiers. But let's not place any more in harms way for this administrations pointless adventure in Iraq.

The best way - still - to stop all the suffering you agonize over is to get the hell out of a place we have no right being in in the first place.

But what can we do now as citizens to stop creating more severely injured veterans?

Let's not forget that many, if not most of our soldiers, Marines,and medical personnel, etc. BELIEVE in the war and what they are doing. It's a delicate path to tread not to disrespect their beliefs when they give SO much. Yes,even if we DO have the constitutional right to express our opposition. I agree, however, that if this country didn't learn from its experience in VietNam, it's unlikely to learn from this war. And so it goes.

I am a Viet Nam Veteran. I had an exageration of PTSD symptomology from this war. I've had a claim in for years and the gov't says it's not their fault. Comp & Pen; denial again. Because of this, I went back to get my MSW and am working on my LCSW, applying for jobs at Vet Centers, waiting for my second rejection. It took a scandal at Walter Reed to get the gov't in gear. I got help at a Vet Center. I believe in their mission. I am good at this social worker stuff.
Yes, let's get out of the war business and begin getting these guys integrated and loved in society.
Someone please hire me.
BTW, just because I have symptoms doesn't mean I can't work or be good at helping others. That's how Vet Centers were begun, Vets helping Vets, Rap groups. Let's help these guys. Tell your congress people, more $$ into the VA & Vet Centers, because ultimately that's where they'll end up.

Pat all of the LCSW's should have your experience and (with jelousy) points. You should have no trouble getting a 185 at a GS10 or 11. However I worry about the ability of the gov to find trained folks or train up combat stress teams to work with the needs of the many. Aprox 30% of active duty check the box for PTSD. More than 40% for Activated Guard and Reserves. SO, if you figure in the stigma of reporting on the Post Deployment Reassessment Health Reassessment
and the lenghting of time getting back to the family box checking will have. I have to give the rate of PTSD symptoms a 10-15 point bump. Even at that you don't know your inappropriatly anxious till a few month down the road. So here Pat and I and countless others are waiting to be put into the game. We know its comming, the tide of humanity the tears the acting out the pain. Our leaders know its comming also. Let them know you care.

The lack of easily available and appropriate treatment for the full range of injuries--brain injuries, amputation, ptsd--is a national scandal and ought to be one of the biggest issues in our upcoming presidential campaign. Regardless of how you feel about the war, we ought to be supporting the returning troups. And that means the national guard and reserve people too. And surprise, surprise, they aren't, under current regulations, eligible for any sort of longterm treatment through the VA. This is an outrageous, obscene, and just plain wrong picture. Of course, it's also just plain wrong that there is no mental health care available for the people of New Orleans post Katrina.
Welcome to government by the corporations, for the corporations, of the corporations. . .

Actually the t-shirt says, "If you don't stand behind our troops, please feel free to stand in front of them."

I bought one the day we laid my brother to rest.

Cpl. Matthew P. Wallace
21 July 2006

I have a friend who is a flight nurse. Two years ago when she was working the Rhein-Main/Washington route she wondered where they were going to put all the wounded that she was escorting back. Alas, she is still wondering. Badger your representatives and senators NON-STOP on this. Only total grassroots pressure can help. The top of the CoC couldn't care less.

I appreciate your inclusion of ideas about how civilians can help. It is too easy to feel powerless in the face of such an enormous problem. It is important to do both the personal contributions of which the author speaks AND the prodding of the political process toward some semblance of fairness.

well said, I too work in a military hospital and see all of what you described, hopefully something can be done to benefit all of these soldiers either at home or coming home.

When Bush vetoed SCHIP the families of the grievously wounded lost two important provisions of the legislation, one providing for a full year of employment discrimination protection for family members taking care of wounded servicemen and the extension of work leave for such people from three months to six months. Heckuva job, Bushie.

Too many on the homefront, not engaged in this conflict by having a loved one or friend in service fall into the categories of 1] totally disengaged, having taken the President's advice to "go shopping," 2] in total support of the policy and short-sighted decisions leading to this conflict but not backing it up with any more than lip service to support our troops, 3] mad as hell about the aforementioned but feeling helpless.

Your points are greatly appreciated that there are things any of us can do and we should act not only for the well being troops but for the well being of our country in the near future and in the years to come. Some of these acts may seem small, but taken together are significant. At the same time we must demand that our government step up and assume their moral responsibility. We can all do that. Thank you Clara--for your service and telling us straight.

Plenty of good info. Now if we will only act upon it. Thank you for your service.

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